President Obama wasn't laughing when he visited funnyman David Letterman's Late Show tonight, instead offering a stone-faced repudiation of Mitt Romney's controversial comments about 47 percent of Americans.
"There are not a lot of people out there who think they're victims. There are not a lot of people who think they're entitled to something," Obama said when questioned about a statement the Republican made dismissing nearly half the electorate as being hopelessly beholden to the president and government entitlement programs.
"When I won in 2008, 47 percent of the American people voted for John McCain," Obama continued, speaking through the New York City audience's applause. "They didn't vote for me and what I said on election night was: 'Even though you didn't vote for me, I hear your voices, and I'm going to work as hard as I can to be your president.'"
"My job is not to worry about those people," Romney told donors at a May 17 fundraiser in Boca Raton, Fla. "I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives."
"There are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that's an entitlement. And the government should give it to them," Romney said during a question and answer session at a $50,000 per plate gathering. "And they will vote for this president no matter what. These are people who pay no income tax."
Today, for the second time in less than 24 hours, the Republican defended his comments to the press. Having looked rattled during Monday night during a makeshift press conference in California, a more composed candidate appeared on Fox News this afternoon to offer an unqualified defense of his original statements.
"We were of course talking about a campaign and how [the president's] going to get to close half the vote, I'm going to get half the vote, approximately, I hope. I want to get 50.1 percent or more," Romney said, before quickly seeking to pivot from discussion about his own prospects to an accusation President Obama was promoting "redisitribution" of wealth.
When asked about the tape during a campaign swing through Iowa, Vice President Joe Biden was uncharacteristically brief, saying he'd "let [Romney's] words speak for themselves."
Sen. Scott Brown, a Republican running for re-election in Massachusetts, wasn't so kind.
"That's not the way I view the world," Brown said in a statement. "As someone who grew up in tough circumstances, I know that being on public assistance is not a spot that anyone wants to be in. Too many people today who want to work are being forced into public assistance for lack of jobs."
But some Republicans have backed Romney, applauding the comments and framing them as the most expressly conservative thing he has said since entering the race.
"What he ought to do is step up and embrace the basic division in our nation, including the fact that nearly half the country pays no income taxes," Michael Walsh wrote in the National Review. "Acknowledge it, and then explain why, morally, this is not a good thing."
Romney convened an impromptu news conference Monday night, hours after the comments went viral, to tell reporters that while his words were "not elegantly stated," the reality is that President Obama "has his group, I have mine" and that the election would be decided by the 5 or 6 percent in the middle, a group he looks increasingly in danger of losing as frustrations mount over a disappointing convention performance and his questionably timed rebuke of the president after an attack on the U.S. embassy in Libya.
After making a brief statement and answering three questions, Romney hurriedly exited the impromptu stage to make a date with the cocktail-sipping donors downstairs, where campaign finance chairman Spencer Zwick had been apologizing for the delay, telling them, "We had a press event that we had not anticipated we would do in the middle of a fundraiser. But this is a presidential campaign and we don't always get to predict what's going to happen every single day."
Hours earlier, Obama campaign manager Jim Messina had slammed Romney for going "behind closed doors" to declare that "half the American people view themselves as 'victims,' entitled to handouts."
"It's hard to serve as president for all Americans," Messina wrote, "when you've disdainfully written off half the nation."
In a twist revealed by New York Magazine Monday night, the video - originally posted and reported by Mother Jones – believed to be shot anonymously, was first delivered to the media by former President Jimmy Carter's grandson, a freelance Democratic opposition researcher who hinted on MSNBC tonight that the video had not come from a donor, but an outside source.
In another segment of the remarks, now online in their entirety, Romney responds bluntly to a question about the Middle East, saying the Palestinians have "no interest whatsoever in establishing peace" with Israel.
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